Pope Francis offers "intense prayers" for safe return of pair taken on Monday

Pope Francis is offering “intense prayers” for the safety and liberation of two Orthodox archbishops kidnapped in Syria, for effective responses to the humanitarian crisis created by the fighting there and for peace in the nation, a Vatican spokesman has revealed.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said Pope Francis was informed about the “new, very serious fact” of Monday’s kidnapping of Syriac Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna of Aleppo and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Paul of Aleppo, who were in northern Syria while on a humanitarian mission.

Several news agencies reported that the two Aleppo church leaders were trying to arrange for the release of two priests, an Armenian Catholic and a Greek Orthodox , who were kidnapped in early February.

In a statement released today, Father Lombardi said the kidnapping of the two archbishops and the reported killing of their driver is “a dramatic confirmation of the tragic situation in which the Syrian population and its Christian communities are living.”

The Jesuit said the Pope is continuing to follow the situation and that the kidnapping of the bishops is a further sign of the “growing violence in the past few days” and the “humanitarian emergency of vast proportions” afflicting all Syrians.

Pope Francis, he said, is praying that “with the commitment of all, the Syrian people can finally see an effective response to the humanitarian drama and see the dawn of real hopes for peace and reconciliation.”

According to the United Nations, more than 70,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and more than 4.2 million Syrians have been displaced inside the country since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011. In addition, some 1.3 million people have taken refuge in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.